England’s schools can be better. Over the past 15 years, a number of major studies have examined systematically how well students perform in literacy, mathematics and science in different countries of the world at different ages. These studies have begun to expose how well different education systems are doing – and have cast the education debate in this country in a wholly new light.
Our schools must reform with urgency, even as they continue to reform and improve. It is clearly important that as we learn from other countries, we do so in a sophisticated way: understanding that the ways in which different features of education systems interact with one another and with the broader society are very important. Nonetheless, there is now a significant body of knowledge from which to learn.
The evidence is clear. It is possible to have an education system in which many more young people achieve highly than in the past or the present. It is possible to have an education system in which the gap between the achievements of the richest and the poorest is narrower. And there is no trade-off between the two: it is possible to achieve both at once.